Windmills

Two of the wind turbines spin at the Riley County Public Works Department on Tuesday.

Officials are trying to figure out what to do with three wind turbines that generate some savings but could require hefty repairs in the future.

Riley County commissioners on Monday asked Leon Hobson, public works director, to look for companies in the region that can provide maintenance bids for the largest of three turbines at the public works grounds north of Manhattan. Commissioners want to get rid of the other two, but are hoping to find people or companies who will be willing to pay for their removal in order to keep them. They asked Hobson to look for entities that might be interested in all three turbines so they can weigh their options between maintaining or getting rid of the Northwind 100, the largest of the three.

The turbines were installed in 2011 through a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. They were designed to encourage communities throughout Kansas to make a shift toward a more energy-efficient economy. The largest, a Northwind 100 machine, cost $307,300. Installation was $289,700 more. A Jacobs machine was $62,000, and the installation and five-year maintenance plan cost $21,800. A Skystream turbine was $11,000 and installation and a five-year maintenance plan cost $8,800.

Hobson said the county no longer has grant funding and preventative maintenance contracts for the systems have expired. He said the systems have a lifespan of about 20 years.

“We’re in a situation now where anything we do out there is strictly at the cost to Riley County,” Hobson said.

Because the preventative maintenance contracts expired, Hobson said his staff reached out to Ethos Distributed Solutions, the company that did the initial maintenance work, for a cost estimate on a five-year maintenance plan. That would cost $71,674 for maintenance, and an additional $84,174 for budgeted repairs.

Hobson said the largest of the three turbines needs some parts replaced, but he has been waiting until he talked to commissioners so he knows how to move forward with maintenance. It saves the county more than $15,000 each year in electricity costs.

Public works staff members determined the Skystream generated savings of $260 annually, and the Jacobs saved the county about $1,400 annually.

Maintenance costs for the Skystream would cost the county between $500 and $700 in a five-year period. Jacobs’ maintenance would cost between $1,500 and $1,700. Northwind maintenance would cost $10,864 in 2018 and between $7,900 and $8,700 from 2019 to 2022. The higher cost in 2018 is because the turbine needs additional parts.

The county would spend more than it saves on the Skystream turbine, about break even by maintaining the Jacobs turbine and save some money if they keep maintaining the Northwind.

“Really the only one that we’ve ever felt was generating electricity that we at least break even or maybe save a little money, was the Northwind,” Hobson said.

He said the turbines were installed as an educational project. Rich Vargo, Riley County clerk, questioned whether continuing maintenance on the turbines is an efficient use of taxpayer money.

“That’s not what we’re in the business to do, to spend tax dollars on,” Vargo said.

Marvin Rodriguez, commission chairman, said the county might be able to find someone who wants the turbines and could pay to take them down and remove them in order to keep them.

Hobson said Ethos representatives quoted $20,000 to remove one of the turbines.

“To me, if they’re not running we need to take them down,” Vargo said.

Commissioner Ron Wells suggested the county to advertise in area newspapers to give away the turbines.